UW-Madison joins consortium to improve digital teaching and learning

September 30, 2014 By Brian Rust

The University of Wisconsin—Madison announced today that it is joining Unizin, a consortium of like-minded universities that are developing a common set of improved digital tools for teaching and learning.

Unizin collaborators are developing flexible digital teaching and learning infrastructures that share common standards and support experimentation. Unizin will offer an evolving set of digital tools that allow faculty to design effective learning experiences and improve how course content is created and delivered to students.

Graphic: Unizin logo

“Our decision to join Unizin at this time opens the opportunity for our faculty, staff and students to help shape the next generation digital teaching and learning environment for Wisconsin and the nation,” says Steve Cramer, UW–Madison vice provost for teaching and learning.

“Our campus Educational Innovation initiative can now grow in new dimensions that otherwise would not have been possible. We are also piloting Unizin tools with our UW System institutions and programs, and interacting with the UW System Learn@UW Executive Committee, which endorsed UW–Madison’s plan to join Unizin,” Cramer says.

Founded this year, Unizin is comprised of course management, learning analytics and data management. The system and tools it contains will be controlled and shared by the consortium. UW–Madison is contributing considerable expertise in the area of learning analytics. Access to Unizin data and the use of learning analytic tools will enable the UW to improve design and delivery of learning experiences at all stages of the learning process. When fully developed, Unizin expects to offer new possibilities in MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) delivery, content sourcing, data sharing with peer institutions and producing university-led learning analytics.

Graphic: Educational Innovation logo

“Our new reality is that we must pool our talents, public and private, to create scalable opportunities to move our primary teaching, learning and research missions forward,” says Bruce Maas, UW–Madison CIO and vice provost of information technology. “We have made remarkable progress in collaborative work and investments to support research among our peer institutions. Unizin holds promise to do the same for teaching and learning.”

Access to Unizin will benefit all instructional audiences:

  • Instructors will have a set of digital tools that have a consistent look and feel across the different spheres of teaching from on-campus instruction to distant delivery. This set of tools will grow over time, and conformance with standards will ensure compatibility now and in the future with other new tools. There will be new opportunities, under instructor control, to share teaching content and gain access to a repository of shared digital content from campus colleagues and others at member institutions. Analytics will allow for clearer assessments of student learning. Most importantly, there will be opportunities for faculty to shape the type and usability of tools.
  • Students will have access to a consistent, flexible and unified platform of learning tools that provide access through a variety of devices. Instructors will be able to approach and assess learning in new ways — ways that reflect digital lifestyles and learning, and that take individual needs and experiences into account.
  • Instructional technologists and support staff will gain access to a large and growing toolkit to help faculty transform and improve their teaching practice. Flexibility and adaptability of the environment will not only ease the job, but also ensure greater faculty support.

The consortium will focus on open standards and interoperability. This means the university will manage all aspects of online learning systems: content sourcing strategies, copyright management, integration between externally-developed and locally managed solutions, infrastructure design, access to institutionally-approved data among collaborating universities, and prioritization of effort.

The fundamental building blocks for Unizin began in response to a challenge from the CIC (Big Ten) Provosts in 2012. The provosts asked their CIOs to help find ways to leverage the scale of the collective group in order to save money and advance improvements to our computing solutions that support our mission-critical programs. Discussions of infrastructure associated with our learning management needs spread beyond the CIC through various CIO professional associations.

The consortium was officially established in July 2014 with Indiana University, Colorado State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Florida as the charter members. In addition to UW–Madison, Oregon State and Minnesota are also joining at this time.

To find out more about this emerging collaboration, visit the Unizin Project site.